From Philology to Linguistics

  • Edward McDonald
Part of the The M.A.K. Halliday Library Functional Linguistics Series book series (TMAKHLFLS)


We now move into a period in which, in both cultural polities, the study of language became more fully professionalised than ever before and we can start speaking about something like “linguistics” in the sense of a dedicated science of language. In his Presidential Address to the Linguistic Association of America in the mid 1960s (Hockett 1965: 185), Charles F. Hockett (1916–2000) identified four “turning points” in the history of linguistics, enumerated below. When such claims are made in favour of (1) Sir William Jones’s (1746–1794) identification of a historical relationship between Sanskrit and Greek and Latin and many other European and Asian language families in 1786; − or of (2) the publication of Karl Verner’s (1846–1896) ‘An Exception to the First Sound Change’ in 1875; or of (3) Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857–1913) Cours de linguistique générale in 1916; or of (4) Noam Chomsky’s (1928–) Syntactic Structures in 1957 – as the “real start” of the discipline, and the move to dealing with language history, or contemporary spoken languages, or syntax as the decisive “turn”, it is as well to remember that the empirical foundations of the discipline were laid in the historical study of the phonology, and in Europe morphology, of ancient written languages. The move “from philology to linguistics” memorialised in the title of this chapter was not a replacive change; and the fact that it is commonly represented as such has more to do with the politics of the self-proclaimed new discipline, and its need to draw a line between itself and the past, than with substantive issues of continuity versus change. In fact in each polity, as we saw in Chap.  7, this “turn” had been preceded by an equally significant (although not of course total) transition of intellectual focus from theology to literature in Europe and from philosophy to philology in China.

Suggestions for further reading

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The paradigm-transforming works

    Primary sources

    1. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913) Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (1878)Google Scholar
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    Text 12 (1898) Mă Jiànzhōng: Măshì Wéntōng馬建忠《馬氏文通》‘Mr Ma’s Compleat Grammar’

    1. Ma JZ (1898) Măshì Wéntōng [Mr Ma’s Compleat Grammar]. Commercial Press, Shanghai. 2000. In: Lü S, Wang H (eds) Măshì Wéntōng DúbĕnGoogle Scholar

Suggested for further reading


    1. Joseph JE (2012) Saussure. Ch. 7. The Mémoire on the original vowel system of the Indo-European languages. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 221–249Google Scholar
    2. Morpurgo Davies A (2004) Saussure and Indo-European linguistics. In: Sanders C (ed) The Cambridge companion to Saussure. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 9–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar

    Ma Jianzhong

    1. Bai LM (2012) Creating “real learning” for China’s survival: Liang Qichao and the Ma brothers, 1896–1898. Twentieth Century China 37(2):101–120. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward McDonald
    • 1
  1. 1.SydneyAustralia

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